As most theaters are still closed, virtual cinema is still alive. Please support the local theaters and enjoy a film from home! The Sie Film Center Virtual Cinema page can be found at www.denverfilm.org. This month, I review one film from the Center as well as a streaming show.
Coming Home Again (2019—Sie Virtual Cinema)
This solemn, contemplative, austere, and quiet film (the kind of movie my students call “slow”) is a wonderful meditation on family, illness, and how we tend to see our lives holistically when faced with the prolonged death of a loved one. Life slows down, and we have time to think it all through. This film allows us to do the same thing—slow down and think it all through.
Directed by Wayne Wang (The Joy Luck Club) and starring Justin Chon as a young man (Chang-rae) who leaves his writing job in NYC to care for his dying mother in San Francisco, the film hits a plethora of personal notes and topics with which most of us can empathize. The care for a dying parent is among the most challenging acts we encounter in our adult lives. As Chang-rae states at one point: “My job is to be your son.” The statement implicitly notes the dialectical nature of the relationship—a relationship that never really changes. We can have our own children and care for them, but it bears no resemblance to how we care for our parents.
This may not be for everyone, but for those of you who understand these words, it is definitely for you. And if you haven’t been there yet, you will be. This film poetically, and realistically, captures that terrible and unshakeable sinking feeling. Like the experience it visualizes, the film will stick with you.
Now playing at the Sie Virtual Cinema: www.denverfilm.org. You will enjoy this film if you liked The Sweet Hereafter, Three Colors: Blue, and/or Ms. Purple.
The Queen’s Gambit (Netflix)
The Queen’s Gambit is a risky chess strategy, yet this show of the same name, based on a novel by Walter Tevis, is not risky in the least. It is fantastic. Anya Taylor-Joy stars as chess prodigy Beth Harmon, a young woman who fights her way from an orphanage to the world stage. We meet her in the first episode in what turns out to be a flashforward to a later episode: she is late for a world championship match, she is hungover, she drinks a tiny bottle of booze to wash down pills, and she races downstairs to face the best player in the world. The show freezes us there, and we go back to the beginning, where a young Beth (Isla Johnston) is taken to the orphanage after her mother is killed in a car crash. In a strange sequence of events, she is taught to play chess by the school janitor, in the basement. She then begins a journey that includes fighting multiple addictions, inner demons, and a repressive patriarchal world.
Taylor-Joy eats every scene, and the camera knows this—it is trained on her like a mother to her cub. In what is sure to be an Emmy nomination, Taylor-Joy plays Beth from a 13-year-old who finally gets adopted to a self-assured 20-year-old we see by the end of the season. Playing that range is no small feat, and Taylor-Joy handles it expertly. The supporting cast is solid, including a wonderful turn by adoptive mother, Marielle Heller. It is the cinematography, editing, sound, and the mise-en-scène (settings, costumes, compositions) that rival Taylor-Joy for our affections, however. Set in the 60s, the music is at turns inspiring and fun (if too on-the-nose at points), the period costumes are dazzling, the editing is quite expressive, and the cinematography brings Beth’s interior world wonderfully, vividly alive. The production values are outstanding, which is not always the case for a Netflix original series. This is a great binge.
Now playing on Netflix.
You will enjoy this series if you liked The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, The Crown, and/or Girl, Interrupted.
Vincent Piturro, PhD, is a Professor of Film and Media Studies at Metropolitan State University of Denver. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. And you can follow “Indie Prof” on Facebook and @VincentPiturro on Twitter.